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STS Student Research Spotlight: Wearable Technologies - Innovation and STS

May 26, 2016

Kelly Joyce, Hined Rafeh, and Liz Owens pose with the tech

Above: Kelly Joyce, Hined Rafeh, and Liz Owens pose with a mannequin wearing a prototype of the technology.

Wearable Technologies: Innovation and STS

Drexel University's MS in Science, Technology and Society (STS) program offers hands-on research experience early and often. In their second year of the program, Hined Rafeh and Liz Owens, both MS science, technology and society ’16, secured positions as research assistants with Kelly Joyce, PhD, to study the social dimensions of a wearable technology in the making designed by a multidisciplinary team at Drexel University. The smart fabric technologies could replace hospital instruments used during labor to wirelessly monitor mom's heart rate, fetal heart rate and contractions (see picture above), and in the NICU to wirelessly monitor infants' respiration and heart rate.

Professor Joyce, Hined Rafeh and Liz Owens designed and led focus groups with recent mothers, mothers’ birth partners, doctors, nurses, doulas and midwives to better understand the perspectives of those who have recent birthing room experiences and systematically gather their feedback. Their feedback will bring a social science perspective to the designers and engineers who are in the process of creating the technology.

As research assistants Hined and Liz learned to design focus group questions, recruit participants and lead the focus groups. Describing her experience with focus groups Liz noted, "Having to recruit and gather a group of 8-12 people in one place at one time for about an hour long group interview is challenging, but it has proven to be a rewarding method that results in a relatively large amount of data production in a short period of time. One of the most rewarding things about working as a research assistant are the skills that I have gained, and being able to witness participants' fascinating, pertinent statements during our focus group research."

Speaking about her experience on the project Hined explained, "There are a lot of demands that come with doing research in the social sciences, and learning how to juggle them all was challenging but extremely rewarding. Working on a project like this was exciting because the research we did would potentially change the way the device would look and be used. I'd be able to see the real life effect social science can have on science and society."

Hined Rafeh and Liz Owens are both completing their degrees this spring. This fall, Hined will begin to pursue her PhD in science and technology studies at Renesselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). Liz is currently seeking a research position at a university or nonprofit with a focus on STS-issues including gerontology and advocacy for older adults.

Kelly Joyce, PhD, is professor of sociology and director of the Center for Science, Technology, and Society. She teaches courses on the social dimensions of health and illness as well as courses on the values embedded in technological design and use. Her main research areas are: (1) medical knowledge and clinical practice and (2) aging, science, and technology.

The Center for STS offers an MS for graduate students and an accelerated masters of science and a minor for current Drexel undergraduates.  If you would like to learn more about the programs or find out more about our activities, including lectures and other events, email Irene Cho, assistant director, at irene.cho@drexel.edu.

For more info on Drexel's wearable technology projects, see: newsworks.org/index.php/local/healthscience/68231-drexel-team-develops-belly-band-to-monitor-contractions-of-pregnant-women and drexel.edu/now/archive/2014/May/Belly-Band/